by Dr. Mordechai Kedar
The last few months have been characterized by a slow but steady heightening of security tensions in areas adjacent to three of Israel's borders, in contrast to the more geographically distant additional threat posed by Iran.
It is absolutely crucial that Israel change the message it is sending out to its foes in the three arenas endangering the Jewish State.
The three areas in question are: 1. Gaza, 2. Judea and Samaria to whose issues one must add knifings and ramming attacks and 3. Lebanon, Syria and the developments involving Hezbollah, Iran and Russia.
The clear and present danger presented by the escalating tension in those areas makes it imperative for Israel to raise its level of response, because continuing to retaliate on the response level of the past years does nothing to deter Israel's neighbors nor does it restore tranquility and security to Israel's population.
Gaza and the tunnel industry
On Sunday, March 18, Israelis awoke to the voice of the IDF Spokesperson announcing that Israel had destroyed two more Hamas-built terror tunnels aiming to reach into Israeli territory. Israel blew up the tunnels, seizing the opportunity to retaliate for the explosion of four roadside bombs placed near the border fence by Hamas the previous week. At first glance this seems like another case of Israeli cleverness and a calculated risk. Hamas hides bombs and Israel blows up tunnels in a legitimate response to aggression, careful to be sure there is no one in the tunnels, so that those who employ the diggers will not have an excuse to raise the level of violence in the area.
The decision to employ this course of action is a result of the Islamic Jihad tunnel destruction Israel carried out in October 2017, in which 15 Jihadists were killed, some in the tunnel and others while trying to rescue those trapped inside. Since then, the IDF and political echelons are wary of a Gazan revenge operation, so in order not to give the terrorist organizations an excuse to heat up the volatile region, they have elected to try to avoid injuring those digging the tunnels, especially if the tunnel has not yet encroached on Israeli territory. I imagine the IDF's ever-present legal experts had a hand in the decision.
With all due respect to those who make the decisions in the IDF, their superiors and their plethora of legal advisers, this kind of behavior is totally wrong and sends a very problematic message to Gaza's terror organizations. These murderers are now well aware of Israel's fear of escalating violence and its concerns about the fury of the organizations digging the tunnels. They are experts at taking advantage of the fear projected by Israel.
In my opinion, Israel must begin to act in a diametrically opposed fashion. It has to declare that all the tunnels, including those that have not yet crossed the border into Israel, are to be considered aggression against Israel. This means that Israel has both the right and the duty to destroy them at any moment in time in order to defend itself. This is already the case when Israel hits Hezbollah and Iranian targets in Syria without waiting for provocations, and the situations are, in effect, exactly the same. Israel must announce in clear and unequivocal tones that the very act of digging a tunnel anywhere, even within the Gaza Strip, is an aggressive act that justifies an attack even if it eliminates those digging or those who happen to be inside the tunnel by chance.
Israel must create a situation in which anyone entering a tunnel in Gaza, Rafiah or Khan Younis, in order to continue digging it, deliver supplies or ready it for action, is liable to end his life inside it – as is anyone who enters the tunnel to try to rescue hm. In order to destroy the tunnel infrastructure, Israel must create a situation where anyone entering a tunnel fears for his life every second he is in it.
This may not deter all the willing diggers, but it will considerably raise the salaries demanded by the organizations taking part in building the tunnels, and might delay or even bring the work to a standstill.
Judea and Samaria, paying a price for stabbing and car ramming
Stabbing and ramming terror attacks are becoming much too popular lately. They require no technical or organizational infrastructure, the murder weapons – a car or a knife – can be obtained legally by a terrorist acting on his own, while successful prevention of both types of attack is limited. Perpetrators are treated like heroes in their social surroundings, songs of praise are heaped upon their heads, and even if Israel does destroy their homes, they are sure to be rebuilt by the terrorist's extended family. Meanwhile, his nuclear family will receive generous official financial support from the PA, whether he has been eliminated or apprehended and imprisoned by security forces.
The economic and social benefits reaped by the families of those who carry out terror attacks automatically grants them the status of collaborators, whether or not family members helped in planning the attack. The increase in the number of knifings and ramming attacks forces Israel to raise the level of punishment to include the terrorist's family. One of the sanctions to be considered is exiling the terrorist's immediate family – at least his parents – to Gaza. Uprooting the family from its natural social surroundings is proportionate and non-extreme punishment, but it may cause a potential terrorist to think twice about his plans.
At the same time, Israel must work towards a permanent solution – that is, the Palestinian Emirate plan for the cities of Judea and Samaria, based on local families instead of the must-be-dissolved Palestinian Authority, before that entity turns into a terror state under the protection of the world and the UN. Mahmoud Abbas' approaching disappearance from the scene is an opportunity Israel must take advantage of in order to establish the only possible solution that works, the Emirate Plan.
Syria and Lebanon – Iran and Hezbollah
In contrast to the other two areas in which Israel has to deal with Arab residents of Israel, Syria and Lebanon are an international issue, involving at least four nations: Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Russia. Israel must keep each of these protagonists' expected reactions in mind when it decides to act in any way. The US is another country involved in what is happening in Syria and Israel has to coordinate its every move with America.
The Syria-Lebanon arena is extremely dynamic, with the situation on the ground constantly changing. Hezbollah and Iran's presence in territories that Israel sees as a threat to its security is also in flux. What this means is that a situation Israel has learned to live with one day turns into something unacceptable overnight. In the background is the concern that the entire northern front can go up in flames, leading to a wide-ranging war against Hezbollah and Iran.
This concern became real on Saturday, February 10, the day an Iranian drone was intercepted, Iranian and Syrian targets were bombed and an Israeli F-16 downed . A day of battles of this nature could easily have deteriorated into a regional war – and in fact, the tense atmosphere prevailing between Israel, Hezbollah and Iran may actually cause a large scale war to break out.
Israel can repeat over and over that it is doing everything to prevent war, that it is executing "precise surgical operatons" so as not to give Assad, Nasrallah and Khamenei an excuse to initiate an all-out war against it.
This is the wrong kind of message to be sending because it reflects fear of dealing with Iran and Hezbollah. Cowardice heightens the chances of war, because our northern neighbors believe that if Israel does not want a war, it means that Israel thinks it will be the loser in that war, and that it is afraid of the high price in blood and destruction it would have to pay. Israeli fear only encourages Hezbollah and Iran to continue provocations aimed at dragging Israel into a war which they are sure it will lose.
It is crucial for Israel to change that message and the operations accompanying that message. Israel must declare that what is happening in Syria and Lebanon – that is, the increased Iranian presence and Hezbollah's acquisition of advanced weapons, is seen as aggression against Israel, that Israel is prepared to fight a defensive war, is planning it and will begin it at whatever time it sees fit in response to this aggression. A declaration of this kind will gain the attention of a world which has not taken seriously the growing strength of Iran in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Will an Israeli declaration of its plans for a preventive war in Syria and Lebanon improve Israel's position? I think it will, because as time passes, Iran is gaining a larger and larger foothold in Syria while Hezbollah stockpiles more and more weapons in addition to establishing arms-producing factories. That leads to the conclusion that the longer the war in the north is put off, the worse it will be and the higher the price Israel pays in blood and damage is going to be.
It is in Israel's interest, therefore, to wage a preventive war soon, at a time that is more convenient for Israel than for its enemies. Postponing the war will only lead to a stronger, better armed, more organized and dangerous Lebanese and Iranian front arrayed against the Jewish State.
Simultaneous war on three fronts
Israel must take into account that war in the north will lead to escalation in Gaza, due to Iranian influence on Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Increased terror attacks in Judea and Samaria are also to be expected. Unquestionably, the next war will be a complex and far from simple test for Israel's military, civilian and political systems, but every Israeli must take into account the critical regional situation in which Israel strives to maintain its very life, a region where the weak find it hard to survive.
Only a country which is militarily and economically strong, based on a unified society which believes in the justice of its cause, can deal with the Middle East's challenges – challenges whose tragic results we see in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya. Only a nation that poses a clear threat to its enemies is left alone in this region, while weakness and fear encourage its enemies to see that those fears are realized and come to pass.
In the Middle East, self control is seen as weakness, even if there are some naïve and war weary people in our midst who believe the opposite is true. Egregious security policies are a psychological state in which one side, the foolish one, acts in accordance with its own culture, conceptual framework and rationale, ignoring the culture, conceptual framework and rationale of the other side. To our eternal sorrow and detriment, Israeli decision-makers have been taking steps that absolutely suit our culture, concepts and worldview, while they ignore the fact that our neighbors behave in line with totally different and often completely opposite considerations in mind. The high price for foolish security policies is being paid by the unfortunate people living in the various areas of conflagration in our vicinity.
It's about time our decision makers begin to react to the Middle East in the ways to which it is accustomed and by which it operates.
Written for Arutz Sheva, translated by Rochel Sylvetsky, Senior Consultant and Op-ed Editor.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar is a senior lecturer in the Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University. He served in IDF Military Intelligence for 25 years, specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. Thoroughly familiar with Arab media in real time, he is frequently interviewed on the various news programs in Israel.
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